Published Monday 27 March 2017
- Child Care, Youth and Families
“I reach out for Mark every morning in bed, and then that sleepy haze wears off in an instant, and I remember he’s not there anymore.”
Leesa Taylor has joined a unique club, one she never imagined belonging to, one whose members can all relate to this daily ritual and painful reminder that they are now widows or widowers.
“Mark and I had been together more than 20 years. We met in our twenties in Melbourne. We both had young children from previous relationships, and we raised our family together,” smiles Leesa.
“Our life revolved around our kids, their partners and our only grand-child. We both worked extremely hard all our lives, even on the weekends, building and renovating houses, with the knowledge, like many our age, that retirement was just around the corner, our baby of the family was about to leave home and then we’d travel and do everything we’d planned together. We were planning to go to Canada and Alaska the year after Mark died,” Leesa says with tears welling.
That holiday didn’t happen and all their shared plans and dreams for the future were shattered in the early hours of November 25, 2015 when Mark suffered sudden and fatal heart failure, while Leesa was out of town.
“We spoke often every day, it was rare for us to have a night away and when we did we always spoke before we went to sleep,” says Leesa. “I had tried to ring Mark about 10pm to say goodnight and I thought it was strange that he didn’t answer, but I knew he’d call back. When my phone rang about 3am, I just thought it would be him. I’ll never forget those moments, the hours and the days that followed that phone call. The physical pain that engulfs your body is raw and so powerful, you don’t think you’ll ever recover. That phone call marks the end of my life, as I call it, and the beginning of this new life I’m living.”
Like many who recount the physical and emotional impact of grief, in those early days, Leesa needed to find someone to talk to, someone who had been through this exact experience. That’s what led her to the Young Widows and Widowers Support Group (YWWSG), the only group of its kind operating in South East Queensland, catering specifically to the needs of young widows and widowers.
“People mean so well when you’re grieving, but only people who have lost a spouse themselves can ever really understand. You don’t know what hope is until you’ve lost it and I’d lost my future, I needed someone who had been where I was, to tell me I could climb out and I could find hope again,” Leesa says.
The YWWSG has been operating since 1991 and Coordinator Jo Langford says statistics show that 75 per cent of your support network will fall away after you’ve been widowed.
“My closest friends now are widows. They understand what it’s like, and they know that sometimes we’re just going to break down and cry for no reason. And it’s OK. Many widowed people describe how their friends and social networks fell away after being widowed. Grief has no timeframe and it is different for every widow. We all have unique circumstances. You never really get over the loss of your spouse you learn to live with it. It is important for people to know that they aren’t alone, there is the ability to find hope again and live a meaningful, albeit different, life,” Jo says.
Many of Wesley Mission Queensland’s community programs are created by people who have an idea to change their community and support those most in need.
“I’ve been working for Wesley for 17 years, and in my time I have seen how the organisation has this wonderful capacity to work with people and groups and collaborate to fill areas of unmet need in the community,” says Leesa.
“Hope is at the heart of Wesley. We walk alongside people in need and that is exactly what this group is about. Being part of Wesley will allow the YWWSG to reach more people and offer increased support that is desperately needed.”
Jo says the financial, social and emotional impacts of becoming a widow can be crippling as many young widows may be required to stop work to look after their children.
“We’d love to expand the program to provide more social events, including play groups, dinners and outings. We would like to be able to sponsor the meals once a month at our social gathering so no one must miss out because they can’t afford it. We want to look at establishing more opportunities for widowed people to be able to access information and resources, to hear from speakers that may benefit them, for example financial wellbeing, and mentors to help them through when they need it. It is also important that we can provide an opportunity for them to be able to give back when they are ready and if they want to. It would be wonderful to run a conference for widowed people and weekends away, for them and their families at a reasonable cost”.
For Leesa, life is very different now.
“A lot of people told me I need to find purpose in Mark’s death,” she says. “It’s a very hard thing to hear early on; but I now understand and I look for it. I’m passionate about changing some of the rules around returning to work. At the moment, we give someone five days off to bury their husband, their wife or their child; yet we give maternity leave of up to 12 months off and 12- 18 weeks paid leave. It needs to be recognised that losing someone makes just as big an impact on someone’s life as having a baby. We need a program to help people transition back to work.
“I remind myself every day that I need to live life in the present moment. Life drags you through, some days you have to force yourself to get out of bed, but you find little moments of joy and we celebrate Mark as much as we can,” she smiles.
The Young Widow & Widower Support Group meets monthly and is open to everyone email Jo on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on 0419 170 183.